Newts Perfect Storm

Terrance Heath

There’s one Newt Gingrich flip-flop I left out of my previous post about his latest flip-flop, concerning his on-again-off-again-on-again attack on Mitt Romney as a vulture capitalist. It’s a big one, and — in typical Newt fashion — he says it really somebody else’s fault.

No it’s not that he’s distancing himself from his attack on Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital background, again. Give him a day, or less, and he’ll distance himself from distancing himself from the attack. Again.

Not long ago Newt invoked the first rule of dysfunctional politics, calling on Americans to just stop talking about economic inequality.

The cardinal rule of dysfunctional politics, it turns out, it identical to the cardinal rule dysfunctional families: Don’t talk about it. Whether “it” is mom’s boozing, dad’s mistress, junior’s drug problem, or sister’s sex life — or any other problem that families either deal with or don’t — the rule remains the same. Don’t talk about it. Don’t even think about it. Just keep pretending everything is fine, and it will be. At least, as anyone who grew up in a dysfunctional family knows, until it’s not.

The cardinal rule of dysfunctional politics was recently invoked when GOP presidential candidate and frontrunner Du jour Newt Gingrich insisted that everyone stop talking about economic inequality.

I repudiate, and I call on the President to repudiate, the concept of the 99 and the 1. It is un-American, it is divisive, it is historically false … You are not going to get job creation when you engage in class warfare because you have to attack the very people you hope will create jobs.

The, just last week, Gingrich steered the national discussion into an inevitable head-on collision with the issue of economic equality, when he attacked Mitt Romney for his corporate raider days at Bain Capital with a film that juxtaposed Romney and his cohorts growing wealthy on Wall Street against the stories of Main Street Americans who lost their jobs in the process.

One month after telling everyone not to talk about economic inequality, with a 28-minute movie that Democrats could have just as well produced, Gingrich made it all but impossible to talk about anything else.

So, who does Newt blame for this? Well, in an attempt to wriggle off the hook (before jumping back on it again) yesterday, Gingrich placed the blame squarely on President Obama’s shoulders.

“I agree with you,” Gingrich said. “It’s an impossible theme to talk about with Obama in the background. Obama just makes it impossible to talk rationally in that area because he is so deeply into class warfare that automatically you get an echo effect. … I agree with you entirely.”

So much for “personal responsibility.”

Unfortunately for Newt and the GOP, it’s not “Obama in the background” that makes this such a difficult conversation and dangerous political territory for Republicans. According to a new Pew Research Center survey, it’s that economic inequality is now a major concern for most Americans.

Rising Share of Americans See Conflict Between Rich and Poor | Pew Social & Demographic Trends

The Occupy Wall Street movement no longer occupies Wall Street, but the issue of class conflict has captured a growing share of the national consciousness. A new Pew Research Center survey of 2,048 adults finds that about two-thirds of the public (66%) believes there are “very strong” or “strong” conflicts between the rich and the poor—an increase of 19 percentage points since 2009.

Not only have perceptions of class conflict grown more prevalent; so, too, has the belief that these disputes are intense. According to the new survey, three-in-ten Americans (30%) say there are “very strong conflicts” between poor people and rich people. That is double the proportion that offered a similar view in July 2009 and the largest share expressing this opinion since the question was first asked in 1987.

As a result, in the public’s evaluations of divisions within American society, conflicts between rich and poor now rank ahead of three other potential sources of group tension—between immigrants and the native born; between blacks and whites; and between young and old. Back in 2009, more survey respondents said there were strong conflicts between immigrants and the native born than said the same about the rich and the poor.1

The problem for Newt and the rest of the Republicans is that they can’t blame the fact that more Americans see economic inequality as a problem at president Obama’s feet. The Occupy movement can be credited with pushing the issue to the forefront of our national politics, but happened largely because of economic conditions that add up the three decades of stagnant wages and increased costs of living for middle- and working-class Americans, just barely covered by cheap credit that allowed families to simulate increased living standards, until the economic crisis brought the whole house of cards tumbling down.

That’s what makes it “impossible” for Republicans to talk about the kind economic inequality that Bain and other vulture capital firms leave in their wake, as a part of just doing business.

Newt has, basically, created the perfect storm for Republicans going into the South Carolina primaries, with Mitt Romney — the Man from Bain, who still smells like a Wall Street boardroom, and probably now looks more than ever to South Carolina primary voters “like the guy who laid you off.” Newt has forced the Republicans into a conversation they can’t hold, and aren’t even remotely prepared for.

The funny part is that Newt every thought they could avoid it, and that Republicans still think they can avoid it.

Comments